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Story by Lois Grace

DISCLAIMER: No Golf GTi's were harmed in the making of this column, although one particular red 1990 was roughed up a bit. No one was injured in any way other than feelings, and only a few emergency personnel and myself were inconvenienced.

It was a dark and stormy night.....OK, not really, but it was a dark and stormy afternoon when I had an Adventure. Gus, my trusty 1990 Golf GTi and I were headed to an appointment one early afternoon. The rain was coming down hard, and it was cold out - relatively speaking, because we here in CA don't have "real cold". It was chilly and wet, and I happened to be wearing a raincoat (a rare occurrence for me). Was the rainwear an omen? I was on an expressway (speed limit 45mph) and took an off ramp pigtail to continue on down to a street below. About halfway down the ramp, I felt the front tires begin to shudder and in the blink of an eye, Gus' rear end began to twist around and attempt to pass his front. My driving life - all 40 years of it - flashed before my eyes and at that moment, I remembered what I'd been taught about a skid - the main thing being that you steer into the skid, and your car will straighten out. I'm sure this adage is true, in some situations, but in this one I happened to be driving a front-wheel drive car (check), and both rear tires were a bit thin (check-check). At that point, all bets were off. Gus was surprisingly strong in his resistance to me trying to yank the steering wheel back straight. My quick thinking resulted in Gus' rear end flipping around alarmingly in the other direction. We hit the curb once, twice, and then Gus grew tired of the entire exercise and flung his butt over the curb and down an incline into a muddy ditch. His front tires hung onto the curbing and I sat behind the wheel wondering what the hell just happened. I did have the presence of mind to push the clutch in just before the engine died.

Everyone behind me on the ramp slowed and crawled around me to get wherever they were going, no doubt thinking what an idiot I was for interrupting their day. I know I was thinking that. I was talking to AAA when a young woman (obviously a former Girl Scout) stopped and put out flares. Flares! Oh yeah, I should have thought of that too. In my vintage VW's, I always carry a quart of oil and Gus is no exception to that rule. In fact, if the Big Quake hits near me I will have enough spare motor oil in any of my vehicles to keep the city fleet supplied, guaranteed. But in this case oil was of no use and flares would have been nice to have. Good thing someone had them.

Within a half hour or so, emergency vehicles started arriving: a fire truck with lights and siren blaring pulled up behind me. By this time I was out of the car and down the hill, in the mud, under a tree, still trying to get AAA to recognize my location. The dispatcher, a friendly woman located helpfully in Arkansas, could not pinpoint the actual ramp I had flown off. I squinted through the rain, across the street, and saw a few AAA tow trucks sitting idle in some mechanics yard. I told her I thought there was a AAA truck, across the street and gave her the name of the street. She couldn't find that either. By the time the fire truck arrived, I had been on the phone with AAA for over half an hour, been passed by no less than THREE tow trucks who were on their way somewhere else (they didn't stop to help), and had 4 drivers with pickup trucks stop to ask if they could help in some way. I kept shooing them all away as I thought AAA was already coming. I should probably mention here that I didn't attempt to drive Gus out of the mud as I wasn't at all sure we could do it. The incline was steep enough and the mud slippery enough that I was afraid to try. There was also that little detail of the oncoming traffic not being able to see me as I drove up and over the curb - if I tried and just slid around, I would have been directly in the "line of fire" from oncoming cars, who seemed to be all oncoming at 50MPH or more.

I let the fire truck stay so I could have a warm dry place to sit and talk to AAA. It was probably the first sensible thing I'd done that day. High up in the cab, I could see poor little Gus hanging onto the curb by his fingernails, and looking quite forlorn and waterlogged. It was obvious he was embarrassed by the deep tire marks in the mud where he'd gone for his romp. In fact, when the firemen showed up, one of them saw the tread ruts in the mud at the bottom of the ditch and asked with a grin "Are those you also??"

Marilyn the AAA Lady and I continued our conversation past the 45-minute mark, and I looked in the fire truck's rear view mirror to see a Highway Patrol car pull up. My stomach lurched. I knew I was going to get a lecture now, from the CHP. The cop was obviously younger than I was but he had no hesitation about asking someone his mother's age if she "might have been going a bit too fast for the conditions'. I honestly didn't think I had been so I pointed out the balding tires on the rear of my car. Big mistake. Both the fireman and the cop made me promise that I would get new tires immediately. Right about then, one of the firemen volunteered to drive Gus out and up over the curb. The cop stopped traffic while my fireman friend climbed in Gus and started him up. With barely any hesitation, he let the clutch out gently and Gus crawled up the bank and gently over the curb. One 3-point turn later and my car was headed in the correct direction and drivable, albeit with a slightly flat rear tire. The fireman, it turns out, was a VW lover who had owned a 1989 Golf (but not a GTi) and wanted to chat about my car and compare VW notes! I would have been happy to do so, except that we were standing in the pouring rain in the middle of an off ramp and a cop had 10 cars stopped. Dang, doesn't that ALWAYS happen? I did go the very next day and got two more new Michelins. The only real damage (if you can call it that) was a scraped-up front spoiler from being bent under the nose of the car as we went over the curb. Boy my old GTi is a tough little nut.

I am sure there is a lesson in all this. Such as, "Don't think it can't happen to you". Or maybe, 'Your tires are always in worse shape than you think they are'. But all's well that ends well. Oh, and AAA never did find me.

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